Friday, June 21, 2013

11 Student Commercials Showcasing Nine Years of Social Studies

My students have been making commercials since 2005. Not the same students, not in the same country, and not always with the same objective.
Me filming students in 2006

I thought it would be kind of neat to show a timeline of my class commercials through my students' work. In 9 years I've helped my students create close to 100 commercials. I chose the commercials below based on which ones could give either an example of what I was trying to do at the time, or because they demonstrated a breakthrough in thinking.


11.  Super Benz's Video Shop, 2006
Thailand
None of the commercials I made with students from 2005 - 2006 worked out great. One reason is that the English level was a little low to be doing this, and I just didn't have the time to properly do a writing workshop with them.
I still made them with the students though because the alternative was following a social studies text book in Thai and then filling out Thai worksheets about economics with English vocabulary. I couldn't do that. So although the commercials are a bit painful to watch, this was a lot of English for them to write and to speak. From that era I'm choosing Super Benz's Video Shop because the sound effects really made me laugh. The kids didn't mean to make a gangster commercial, and I still am not sure what their intention was when they said that you wouldn't have an accident if you bought from them, but I suggested they put the "accident" in quotes every time they said it, and then I explained what that meant. They liked the idea and decided to punch the videos every time they said the word too.


For some reason half way through the video I switched from the Godfather motif to the Fat Albert theme song. I think I thought that the kids wouldn't get the slow pace of the Godfather, and I wanted to end with something more exciting.

Interestingly enough, even though the commercials weren't tied to products that the kids made, they did make products. I brought together this fifth grade class (35 kids) and my sixth grade class (30 kids) for my own little Thailand version of Exchange City.



But First The School's Proprietor Had 
To Say A Few Words


6th Graders Selling Crafts They Made

        Much like today's model, there was a bank president 
A police officer writing a ticket for 
"Walking on the grass."




10. Save The Planet, 2009 - 2010
Sudan
In 2008 I brought back the commercials after a two year hiatus. I first started it as a middle school exploratory. The next year I brought them back into the class curriculum, dropping the economics but fitting the lessons into a grander theme of advertising because there were a couple of essential questions in fifth grade that I thought deserved to be looked at through an advertising lens: "What sources help us develop our views?" and "In what ways can these sources produce bias?"
But I wasn't trying to spice up an awkward and boring Thai curriculum anymore. I had a lot more freedom. And more resources. So the fifth graders wrote their own commercials and they edited everything in iMovie. For the music they were usually lost on what to do so I gave them a few options and they chose from those options. I like this commercial as an example of that era because I love the idea for this product. Do you hear me game developers? Make Jackson Kid!




9. The 4-R Bank, 2010 - 2011
Nepal
2010 was a year of firsts. It was the first year that:
I taught fourth grade.
The advertising unit fit into a larger class economy.
The students made commercials for their own products.
We used a green screen. Actually we used a blue screen. It was the first and last year for the blue screen because it was too difficult for the kids to not wear blue. The 4-R Bank commercial was our first attempt at using the Blue Screen. We had the superhero, lay on a stool to simulate the flying. This one was always a fan favorite that year because of that effect.



Fun Fact: Between the first and second takes of the last scene when the bank robber was tied up, a monkey wandered into the classroom. I ran at it yelling and screaming and it retreated. I started chasing it in the hall when it promptly turned around and started chasing me. I turned, ran behind the drinking fountain, and started pounding on the metal casing to scare it away.

8. Origami Organisms, 2010 - 2011
Nepal
Origami Organisms, filmed during the first year of our Blue screen, was the commercial that pushed the boundaries of what we could do the most. I'm not sure we succeeded but I love the different variety of settings this script called for: The shop, the plane, the ocean, the boat, and the beach. It's an epic commercial and a good idea. The one thing that is missing is an appropriate slogan that ties everything together.



7. Pencil Holder Pencil Puppets, 2011-2012
Nepal
First an explanation on the product. The author made tiny puppet heads that fit over the eraser end of pencils. The author wanted to show that pencils are "headless" without his puppets. All the actors in this commercial were supposed to be pencils, but we couldn't figure out how to do that in a meaningful way so we just kept them as people, except that one of the people doesn't have a head.

This commercial is the first time we decided to apply the green screen to a body part. I like this commercial because it's strange and I like it because we had to wrap a green sheet of construction paper around the main actor's head to get the effect.





6. Ready Sharpen Pencils, 2011-2012
Nepal
I love Ready Sharpen Pencils because by now we're using the green screen for at least one scene in every commercial, and this commercial doesn't need any of it. And it's good. The message is concise and clear, fully showing off the genre of "You'll have a better life if you use our product."




5. Mountain Money Bank, 2011-2012
Nepal
This is the first and only time that a student wrote a jingle for his commercial. This is how it went down: The student moved to Kathmandu in January and joined fourth grade knowing about five words of English. For two days he was hunched over his desk writing this commercial, meticulously looking up every word in his translation dictionary as he wrote.
About half way through the jingle it sounds like a toy piano starts playing. We didn't have any instruments actually playing. Instead I ran his voice through Ujam and converted it to musical instruments to make it sound like there are instruments accompanying him.




4. Sci-Fi Humor Inc., 2012-2013
Nepal
So you're selling comic books and you want your commercial to look like a comic book? iMovie '11 has just the template for you!





3) The BB Shop, 2012-2013
Nepal
This commercial highlights one of the most developed scripts written. The author spent a lot of time writing the back story for both the spy and the mad scientist. Only some of it was used in the commercial because of time constraints, but it showed me that writing scripts even at this young age can really be a great exercise in character development.



2. Jaegoo's Origami, 2012-2013
Nepal
This is a special commercial because it's a feel-good commercial. Again we have an ESOL child writing, and my teaching assistant working with him for several class periods to refine his ideas into a script that ended up being heart warming. This is one of the few commercials we've done that has a narrator.


1) Origami Fun, 2012-2013
Nepal
Finally I wanted to feature this commercial because if I ever do this unit again, this might be how I do it. This commercial was really a collaborative effort. The author had the product and an idea of what he wanted to show. But because of circumstances outside his control, his classmates helped write several different scenarios that we could try to get the message across. Some ideas, like spraying the chasers with a water hose, were too messy to try, but slipping on a banana, dressing up like a girl, and pretending to be Bob Marley all came from collaborative writing.


I say that this might be the way I do it in the future because in a class of 20 or more, editing 20 or more commercials is a lot of work. When I lived in Sudan, the fifth graders ended up editing their own work. There's more of a learning curve with fourth graders. Also I've always felt that after spending so much time writing and rewriting several scripts and versions of scripts, I owed it the children to do my best to bring out how they saw the commercial playing in their head. Great ideas and great words can't always be showcased with first time editors, and the scripts deserved to be showcased in a way that can make each person proud.

The Students' Perspective Of What Makes A Good Teacher

This weekend kicks off what promises to be an epic ISTE conference, bringing together about 800 of the sharpest #edtech minds to present to about 13,000 motivated teachers. The only other thing that the brilliant presentations might have in common is that most of their advice would be obsolete in much of the world. 

That's not a knock on the conference. That would be insane.

But it's an interesting thing to think about. Many teachers around the world will be entering classrooms this year without electricity. If there is a blackboard, it is most likely a patch of black paint on a wall. So here's the question:

If you had to design a workshop for teachers with no resources, what would you talk about? 

Differentiation? Collaboration? Integration? Another kind of -tion?


When I've thought about this idea in the past, I've used this book as one of my resources:

Making The Difference by Bill and Ochan Powell has one section in particular I've used quite a bit titled Knowing Ourselves- The Students’ Perspective. It outlines what students have defined as essential qualities of a good teacher. Here's an outline of those qualities:


Students Want Teachers Who...

1) Enjoy teaching the subject
-       Being interested in what you are teaching is contagious... like the flu.
-       This comes from knowing what you are talking about and believing in what you are saying.
-       Specific content is not as important as your enjoyment ( Although I would say that students are perceptive, and false enthusiasm doesn’t work).

2) Enjoy teaching students
-       Make an effort to know your students not just as learners, but as people as well.

3) Make lessons interesting and link them to life outside school
-       Memorization with no connection isn’t as powerful as making a connection. 
-       It’s critical to recognize the signs of boredom and know what produces it.
-       Follow the 10-2 rule. Don't lecture more than 10 minutes without giving students two minutes to process. 

4)Will have a laugh but know how to keep order
- A classroom is a stressful place: not only because learning requires concentration, but throw in that you are with the same people for 8 hours a day, 180 days a year. The students are with their friends and not-friends. They are asked to work together and to compete against each other. Having a sense of humor can do a lot to diffuse tension and bring order back to the classroom.

5) Are fair
-       This is complex. It needs to be defined from the beginning. People are not all the same, so treating people the same isn’t exactly fair. Fair is not giving everyone the same thing. Fair is giving each child what they need to be successful.

6) Are easy for students to talk to

7) Don’t shout
- When a teacher shouts, it takes a child on average 45 minutes to learn again.

8) Don’t compare
- Between this class and another. Between this year and another, between two students, between siblings. It is not motivational. But it can humiliating.

9) Explain things that the students don’t understand without making them feel small.

10) Don’t give up on students

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

9 Note-Taking Apps For Teachers

Here is how I write my formative assessments in class; I first grab a clipboard and a sheet of paper (or a sheet of sticker labels). As the children worked or talked, I take notes. I then put the paper down, and promptly forget about it for several weeks until I accidentally throw it away. Repeat ad naseum.
I'm a big believer in careful, documented formative assessment, but I'm also extremely disorganized... especially with paper. So when I learned that I didn't have to use the awful touch keyboard on the iPad to take notes, I
1) Started taking notes on my iPad
2) Started gobbling up all the finger-based note-taking apps on the iPad to find the best one for me as a teacher. 

But "best" is relative and I quickly found that there's a different "best" one for different aspects of my profession. Here then is a rundown of my experience with some handwriting note apps, First though, using a four-point rating system:
  • Handwriting
  • Design
  • Ease of Use
  • Extra Features
Handwriting: I am not an artist. My handwriting is atrocious. So I need an app that can overcompensate for my lack of line sense. And I don't want to see any of this nonsense in the promotion:

Hey Noteshelf, I can be an Immortal 
and never be able to do this

I'm serious, Paper, stop pimping this as even a possibility
(courtesy of http://che-guiruela.tumblr.com/image/51461482622)

It doesn't matter what great artists can do with this app, because I'm not a great artist. What I want to know is how the app tackles terrible handwriting, because I have an abundance of that.

Design: Even though I could care less if the app can do pretty things, I want it to look pretty. And by "pretty" I mean "comfortable." And by "comfortable" I mean does it feel like I'm writing in an actual notebook? Why does that matter? Because I love writing. And writing in notebooks is how I've experienced writing for several decades. If the app can connect me to the love of writing by using a design that is sleek but familiar, then I will want to use it more.

Ease of Use: The easier an app is to use, the more time I spend with it. Does it do what I need to do when I pick up my iPad upside down and start writing? This is kind of the opposite of "Design" where I ask the app to act like a notebook. For this rating, I want the app to act like an app.

Extra Features: This is not a rating based on how many extra features an app has. Instead its a rating based on how many useful extra features an app has that directly pertains to how I take notes in the classroom. Apps can have some amazing features that I will completely ignore because I don't need or want to use them while I'm furiously writing about or with a student. 

9 Note-Taking Apps For Teachers



Handwriting: 9/10
Design: 10/10
Ease of Use: 9/10
Extra Features: I-Don't-Care /10

*Best For: Keeping a Classroom Journal, Taking Classroom Notes
Noteshelf is my favorite handwriting app. I love the design. It feels like a writing notebook. Or a whole shelf of them. Here is a view of its home page:


Not only do the virtual notebooks look like the iBooks homepage, but you can also group the notebooks together just as you would apps in your home screen.
Notebook makes my handwriting look better than it actually is, and it has a "zoom" feature, which I believe is essential to a handwriting app. The zoom feature allows you to write small and clear. Several apps have them. In Noteshelf, it looks like this:




Handwriting: 8/10
Design: 3/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Extra Features: 9 /10

*Best For: Annotating PDFs, Taking Running Records, Recording Book Club Conversations








Notability has good handwriting too. Not as great as Noteshelf, but it's good. And if you like to write small, it has the biggest zoom of any of the apps listed here. There's also a pointless toggle switch for the handwriting; you can toggle nice handwriting on and off. Notability reminds me a lot of Noteshelf, Until we look at the design and how notes are organized:

It's icky. It doesn't look nearly as nice.
That would be a deal breaker, but Notability does something else really nice; it annotates PDF files very cleanly. Why is that important? For Running Records. Not only can I open the app and import a Running Record pdf from dropbox, but while I'm keeping track of the Running Record, I can also record the student reading. So I can have the completed Running Record on the annotated PDF, and the child's voice attached to the file. That's great!



Handwriting: 6/10
Design: 8/10
Ease of Use: 8/10
Extra Features: 7/10








Remarks takes all the best parts of Noteshelf and Notability, and makes them slightly less. It seems slower. It's handwriting software isn't as nice, the design is almost as good as the iBooks-like shelf of Noteshelf. It has an intuitive way to annotate PDFs but there is no voice, and you have to open the PDF from Dropbox. You can't open the PDF in Remarks. 



Handwriting: 9/10
Design: 7/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Extra Features: It's-A-To-Do-List-App /10

*Best For Taking Classroom Notes (If Time Is Not An Issue)
This may be cheating because UYH Gold is not strictly a note taking app. It's a To-Do list app. But it's so much fun that I've used it for student notes. The handwriting is as nice as Noteshelf, but the ink is fluorescent rainbows.  Here is how I organized some Westing Game Book Club notes:

The basic app is free, but to be a good notetaker, you need to buy the "embedded list" extension. And the rainbow ink.

Note Taker HD 

Handwriting: 4/10
Design: 3/10
Ease of Use: 5/10
Extra Features: I-Don't-Care/10










Bad handwriting in this app looks bad. There's still a zoom feature, so that's why the rating is as high as it is. The homescreen looks identical to Notability. Apparently you can only annotate a PDF if it is in the "File Import" folder, but I couldn't actually find that folder.   

Top Notes Pro

Handwriting: 5/10
Design: 8/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Extra Features: I-Don't-Know/10

Sometimes when I write with Top Notes Pro, it drags. And it takes a while for the software to catch up to my finger/stylus motion. This is an incomplete review. People seem to like this app, but the dragging software means that I haven't given this one much of a chance.  

MyScript Memo 

Handwriting: 1/10
Design: N/A /10
Ease of Use: N/A/10
Extra Features: 5/10

*Best For: Taking Classroom Notes That Need To Be Converted Into Typed Text At Some Point.
This is the free version of MyScript Notes Mobile, which is $7.99. I wasn't going to buy that one though because neither of these apps has a zoom window, and the hand writing is atrocious.   What makes this so promising is that it does a good job of changing the awful handwriting into typed text. It would be a good feature but the handwriting is so bad on this app that I have no desire to write in it. 


Penultimate

Handwriting: 3/10
Design: 3/10
Ease of Use: 3/10
Extra Features: 3/10

Threes all around! Or twos! Or whatever! This is a terrible app for notes. The handwriting is awful, the page does not flip around when I turn the iPad, there is no zoom feature... but it's free. And apparently you can search your notes if you type in a key word. Sometimes. 50% of the time. It worked about 50 percent, because it doesn't improve my handwriting, and as I've said many times, my handwriting is atrocious. Check out this promotional video from Evernote:

A few things struck me while I was watching this video:
  • The handwriting is a lie.
  • You can search for key words if you type them in,
  • And that's it. There are no other features in the promotional video that is promoting version 4.0. What on earth were the other versions like?
I don't use this app. But it's free.


Paper 

Handwriting: 8/10
Design: 8/10
Ease of Use: 7/10
Extra Features: 10/10

*Best For: Doodling During Faculty Meetings








I would never use this app to take classroom notes. The zoom feature is weird and not meant for writing. It's meant for drawing. But I use Paper all the time for another professional reason: Faculty meetings.
I'm serious Paper, knock it off. I will NEVER be able to do this!
(Courtesy of: http://carpetman12.tumblr.com/image/49964414433)

I use Paper to doodle during meetings. It's great. And it helps me listen

This is the apex of what I can do.

Conclusion:
Noteshelf is my app of choice for note-taking in the class. I sometimes use UYH Gold because it's so different than the others in this list though. For Running Records I use Notability. Finally, I use Paper to doodle during faculty meetings.

So that's it. What am I missing? What did I get wrong? Let me know.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Teaching Kids To Code Part 4: Coding To Learn

I started my last post by stating that we don't learn to code to learn to code. 
Nobody but a fancy fad-setter would think that. 
Like The Fancy Lad On The Left

We learn to code so that we can code to learn. That's a fairly a vague statement though, so I'll continue this series by interpreting and commenting on the rest of Mitch Resnick's key arguments in his TED talk. Since he created Scratch and I teach it, I'll use that software as the base for my thinking. 

As a reminder, here is the remaining summary of Mitchel's TED talk:  

3) When kids learn to code, it opens up opportunities to code to learn.
4) Programming teaches working collaboratively, thinking creatively, and reasoning systematically  so therefore everyone should learn to code.

So let's jump into it.
Like The Fancy Lad On The Left

When kids learn to code, it opens up opportunities to code to learn.
I like this idea because as a 4th grade teacher, it reminds me of the big transition that many of my students go through with how they view literature over the course of the year. Children entering fourth grade have been learning to read for the past three or four years, and for many of them fourth grade is one of the first times where they begin to consistently read with the alternative lens of "reading to learn." This takes on many forms, but here's an example: When I teach reading there is a emphasis to learn the author's craft because learning what the author does well not only helps with comprehension it helps with our writing. I choose this example because it illustrates how learning a skill in one content area can affect another content area. They're reading like writers. The children are reading to learn. 


But Not From Newspapers... That's A Dead Technology

So what can we learn when we code?
When answering this question, it's not fair to respond with any learned skill that is only applicaple to programming. "They learn iteration, conditionals, events, and processes." Those are strictly computational concepts that exist primarily in programming. Learning and mastering one of these concepts is still "learning to code" since there aren't a whole lot of other disciplines that benefit from learning these concepts.

It's also not fair to include anything that can be taught better through another venue. "Kids learn to create! They learn to craft digital stories or create animations through programming." There's no correlation between being a competent digital story teller and being a competent programmer. And although there are plenty of animations created in Scratch, there are still about a hundred better ways to teach it than through learning a programming language.


Egg on my face if this was created in Scratch. 
(It's not)

That leaves two main areas that we could focus on when defining "coding to learn":
- Learning some math concepts, and
- Learning the process of design

Math Concepts
I'm sure there are several more, but from my fourth grade curriculum, these are the areas I've identified as areas of math where the content can really be understood substantially better through coding than from traditional teaching practices:

Plotting Coordinates on a Cartesian Plane

Determining the Properties (lengths and angles) of Regular Polygons

Constructing Regular Polygons

Understanding and Incorporating Variables

Understanding and Incorporating Random Numbers

I should probably go more in depth with each of the items listed above. I could tie them to Common Core Standards and show examples. I don't feel like doing that right now, so I'll save that for a later project. I kind of talked about some of these things here and here.

The Process of Design
The process of design begins with an idea (For example, "I want to shoot a potato from a pipe.") that is eventually made into a prototype. Through experimentation and debugging, and with feedback from your peers, you revise and redesign the prototype into a more complete and polished end result. 
Kids can learn and experience the same process if they decided to build a pillow fort or a water rocket  or a pillow fort that has a potato gun arsenal and a water rocket escape pod. 
Some ideas are just too ambitious

Still it's worth loooking at the process of design a little deeper. For one there is less overhead in programming (since everything is virtual). For another, no one will accidentally be shot by a potato, which is itself an essential skill. In fact, this needs nicely into...


Programming teaches working collaboratively, thinking creatively, and reasoning systematically so therefore everyone should learn to code.
Learning to design needs all of these points. Programming environments don't really support all of these very well though. I'm only going to talk about the "working collaboratively" aspect and what children actually want that to look like in the classroom.
Scratch 2.0 prides itself on integrating the developing environment with the sharing environment, and although that is nice, it doesn't really model the reality of the classroom. What kids want is to pick up their project and show it to their friends. What they want is to grab the code from their table partner and play with it. But the smallest device that the Scratch environment runs on is a laptop. Those are portable. But they're still extremely awkward to a 9 year old who has respect for a machine that is not his own but still wants to pick it up, or twirl it around so her classmates can see, or pass it along. 


And What If Scratch Worked Like Google Docs?

Where a programming environment really needs to be so that children in the same space can "work collaboratively" is on a tablet. But tablet programming environments aren't really programming environments (Kodable, Daisy the Dinosaur, Cargo bot) or they're way to advanced (Codea). 
Maybe Hopscotch is the closest thing. I haven't tried it out yet, but at first glance it seems fairly limited. 
If Scratch is Legos, Hopscotch is Duplo Blocks

It's curious that the Scratch developers have put such an emphasis on online sharing, but no priority on inside-the-classroom collaboration. A mobile app makes a lot of sense.
But allowing for online collaboration, not just sharing and borrowing, but collaboration, makes a lot of sense too. Since the environment is online, I would suspect that eventually a Scratch project could look similar to a Google Doc in the way that multiple people can edit a Google Doc at the same time.

There's more to say. There's always more. But I've run out of Chris Elliott references.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Teaching Kids To Code Part 3: Scratch 2.0

The past two posts were a roundabout way of saying we shouldn't learn to code to learn to code. That premise is silly. Nobody thinks that anyway. I guess I could have just stated that and not put together the previous two posts. Dang it!
Okay.
Start over.
Forget about everything else I've written up to this period ->.

Good morning!
In May of this year Scratch 2.0 was released to the general public. At the beginning of 2013, Mitch Resnick, one of the leaders in developing the Scratch programming software, gave this TED talk:


To Summarize:
1) Scratch 2.0 uses a web cam or a microphone to interact with the computer.
2) Scratch allows the young peoples to express their ideas with new technologies.
3) When kids learn to code, it opens up opportunities to code to learn.
4) Programming teaches working collaboratively, thinking creatively, and reasoning systematically  so therefore everyone should learn to code.

I want to talk about each of these points in turn. And I'd like to talk about it partially in terms of what was discussed in Teaching Kids To Code Part 2, and specifically what Bret Victor outlined in his essay:

The environment should allow the learner to:
  • read the vocabulary -- what do these words mean?
  • follow the flow -- what happens when?
  • see the state -- what is the computer thinking?
  • create by reacting -- start somewhere, then sculpt
  • create by abstracting -- start concrete, then generalize
The language should provide:
  • identity and metaphor -- how can I relate the computer's world to my own?
  • decomposition -- how do I break down my thoughts into mind-sized pieces?
  • recomposition -- how do I glue pieces together?
  • readability -- what do these words mean?

1) Scratch 2.0 uses a web cam or a microphone to interact with the computer.
I put this point first even though it is not first in the talk because it's the silliest, and really doesn't belong in the talk. But it's important in this discussion because it's been a fairly big feature when promoting Scratch 2.0, but no one really seems to know why. As one Youtube tutorial put it, "I'm still trying to figure out how we are going to use this, but it will be brilliant experimenting with it." 

In the Golden Circle, this is a classic example of the "What" being answered first, a search for the "How" and not a clue on the "Why." Jay Silver has a "why" though.  But I don't want to talk about that. Not yet. Instead I want to talk about what Scratch does well, and how these new features, although really fun, seem to go against this.
What Scratch does well as a language is Bret Victor's idea of identity and metaphor. The default sprite is a cartoon cat:
Top of the mornin' to ya!

And many of the commands are intuitive. There's not a whole lot of guessing when it comes to the following code:

We know that it will do something like this:
Except with movement

But let's look at the command that allows sprites to react to the motion from your webcam:

"Identity and metaphor" seems to be thrown out the window. So is "Readability." To get the sprite to react to your hand, something like this would work just splendidly:

But that doesn't seem intuitive at all. So in a sense these new features came at a cost of what Scratch users and learners truly value; that the coding language is easily identifiable and easy to experiment with. That is offset by the initial 'wow' factor; it isn't that hard to program web cam motion and sprite interaction, and that's really cool. But beyond the initial excitement, what can we do with it? I have some ideas, but that comes later.

2) Scratch allows the young peoples to express their ideas with new technologies.
This is true for many children, and primarily because Scratch does the following pretty well:
The language provides:
  • identity and metaphor -- how can I relate the computer's world to my own?
Most of the commands are intuitive, and the sprites that they control are easily relatable. There is even a subset of commands grouped under "pen" because often we want to draw something.

  • decomposition -- how do I break down my thoughts into mind-sized pieces?
This is an important feature of Scratch. Commands are shaped like lego blocks that can be snapped together or wrapped around each other. Their color coded based on the group each command is found in, and it is relatively easy to visualize your ideas into chunks.

  • recomposition -- how do I glue pieces together?
Scratch 2.0 does this exceptionally well, and is in fact it's greatest selling point. This is how Brett Victor defines recomposition:
Creating is remixing. To a large extent, new ideas are old ideas in new combinations.
A programming language must encourage recomposition -- grabbing parts of other programs, assembling them together, modifying them, building on top of them. This gives creators the initial material they need to create by reacting, instead of facing every new idea with a blank page. It also allows creators to learn from each other, instead of deriving techniques and style in a vacuum.
Scratch 2.0 encourages remixing. In fact when you make a scratch project there are two options for sharing; you either keep the project private, or open to everyone. The Scratch developers deliberately only allowed those two options. You can't share among a small group, or distribute a link to those you choose. You either share your project to the world, or you don't. 

When you're looking at another person's project then, you can remix it. The code is open to you, and you can change it to however you want. The environment keeps track of various changes by updating a "remix tree". The tree shows visually where the original project came from, and the different remixes it has spawned. 
The remix tree for the Scratch project, "Stupid Hair!!!

The environment encourages sharing and discourages plagiarizing by keeping track of the remixes itself. 
HOWEVER...
Another important component for sharing and learning that Scratch 2.0 has incorporated is the Backpack- a virtual space that transcends your Scratch projects where you can store important sprites- code and all. 
One of these sprites I made, and one of them I stuffed 
in my backpack when the others weren't looking.

This is critical so that you don't have to worry about wasting time recoding the same sprite over and over. I love this feature. But using the Backpack seems like a way to get around the authoritative gaze of the remix tree, in that there is no "Backpack" tree, and no sprite history. So it's possible for someone to completely rip off a sprite without giving due credit.
"I found away around the eye, Hermione!"

  • readability -- what do these words mean? The idea of course is that when we look at a command, we understand what it does. We don't need to learn a new language to translate its meaning. Scratch does all right with this, but it could do better. Especially, as mentioned above, with its new set of sensing sub commands. But you know what really bothers me? And I just discovered this right now as I'm putting together this post. THIS really bothers me:

Can you read that? No? Then you can't read Thai. The language changed while I was working on this post, because it saw that my laptop happens to be in Thailand. I hate this feature. It's not helpful to people who travel outside their country. I'm not just talking to Scratch or Adobe or Google or whoever is responsible for this. I'm talking to EVERYONE who is responsible for this terrible feature. Stop doing it. I can't read it. You're not being helpful. You're being a bully. 
Grrr.
Ack.
Meow.
I have to take a break. I'll talk about the next two points of Mitch Resnick's TED talk...

3) When kids learn to code, it opens up opportunities to code to learn.

4) Programming teaches working collaboratively, thinking creatively, and reasoning systematically so therefore everyone should learn to code.


 ...in the next post.

Coming Attractions: 4th Grade Trailers for 2013


I'm taking a short intermission from the "Teaching Kids To Code" series because when I was writing the last post it reminded me of a project I love, an issue I have with it, and a solution that is possible but so far out of reach.

For the past several years in some capacity or another, I've asked the kids to make book trailers. I started off by making Picture Book Trailers in iMovie HD. Then when iMovie '11 came out a level of obstruction was taken away because the format of the trailer- the sound and the sequencing- is already there in their "Movie Trailer" templates. I began teaching the iMovie '11 format for our mystery unit.
Last year I got too ambitious and had each student try to make their own.
It was impossible. For me.
So this year I had each student storyboard their own, and then get into their book club group and take the best scenes from each storyboard to create one book trailer. Here is the book trailer that The Westing Game book club created:

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin


I also had a "Making Movie Trailers" after school activity. The format here was a lot less rigid, and as a result everyone seemed to storyboard either a movie about a mad scientist or aliens taking over the world. Here's one that has both:



Although iMovie '11 made it a lot easier for the kids to storyboard and create trailers, it's difficult for them because there are a couple of layers between filming and the final product. And those layers don't add anything to the creative process. Plugging the video camera into our laptops, for instance,  and waiting for the clips that were filmed to download is time consuming.
As Bret Victor said, "...(I)mportant to the creative process is being to try ideas as you think of them." In this case, having to film all your scenes, then download onto a laptop, and then load them into an event in iMovie '11 is just like writing your code, compiling it, and then running it to see if it works. If it doesn't always fit (and it never always fits, even with detailed storyboards- usually because a scene is too short) then the students have to reshoot and download the clip again.*

That's why I wish I had at least a few iPads to work with. Because there is a lot less down time between the idea and the final product. Since the video camera is in the iPad, creation of a trailer is  more streamlined.

Hold on a second... I'm going to go off on a tangent:
And actually it's more than just improving the time it takes from idea to final product. Here's a fake movie trailer I made for my teenage niece Mary for her Christmas present when I was in a remote part of Northern Thailand.

If you don't recognize the effects, they are from the free app Action Movie FX. I didn't make this for school, and I'm not advocating blowing random things up for a school related project. But you can use this app for school. And actually we needed to when we were writing commercials this year. One script called for a rolling boulder and a lightning storm. We couldn't do the rolling boulder, but the app allowed us to have a giant boulder that dropped from the sky. And it has lightning.

The point is that it was so easy to make. One app gave me the special effects, another app gave me the movie trailer template, and the hardware that ran the two apps had a built in camera. And apps like Action Movie FX will only become more abundant, giving the creator more choices and avenues to explore film making, while tearing down the "compiler" wall that inhibits those ideas, since everything can be found in one device.

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